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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on Exchange Students


Spain crew Rotary Exchange Belgium !
      So , It's the day after my parents and brother left for the states. I'm feeling miserable. Curled up on my bed sobbing because I missed them so much. Then it occurred to me that . I'M GOING ON AN ELEVEN DAY TOUR OF SPAIN. So I should cheer the hell up .
                     This post is going to be me doing a half ass job of trying to recall everything we did in Spain , more or less , day by day.
       Day 1 : Meet in Bruxelles to catch the charter bus and a good 3/4ths of all the exchangers . The bus then stops in Liege to collect the others. AND THEN DRIVES ALLL THE WAY BACK TO WHERE I LIVE . Literally the first rest stop we went to on the 24 hr drive was at the rest station like 5 minutes from my house. 0_o ... yeah . wasn't thrilled. We drove all night and day leaving Belgium via Lille-Paris and working our way down the eastern side of France . I'll probably mention this several times in this post but the group of kids we had on the Spain trip was THE BEST. So many kids I had never met. Newies and Oldies alike.
   Day2: STILL DRIVING . Make it to Salamanque around 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Tour the city a bit .
    Day 3: Tour of the city with guide , LOTS OF FREAKING RAIN.... Salamanque is known for its university  and also the fact that on their Roman age cathedral there is a detailed carving of a astronaut in appropriate garb .
Day4: Up early to Drive all the way to Avila - HOLD UP

OKAY so i started writing this post a while ago and now i'm failing at remembering every day and each significant detail , and plus i have another post to do anyway. SO i'll give you a vague-ish overview.now

   I don't think Americans think that much about Spain, Especially for a vacation in Europe. With the exception of the mega rich party island of Ibiza . My reasoning in saying this is that we never had any kind of intervention with spain, in recent history. Spain wasn't apart of WWII  and I don't really think WWI either. Plus this trip was at the same time as one with rotary to Italy and you can guess which was more popular initially . I think its worth it to take the "road less traveled" in this case. Italy will allllways be there as a travel option , everyone wants to go to Venice , Rome ect, and , yes i've already been to Italy once and it was alright . But SPAIN <3
     Sure they're going through a bit of a rough patch . LIKE THE REST OF THE WORLD, but it really was amazing. The landscape was probably one of the greatest parts of the trip , I've never been to the Southwest in my own country but I imagine it looks a hell of a lot like spain which would explain why the Spanish settled there . The history is diverse , at one point there were Muslims , Jews and Christians all living together. Although for the most part , now and then Catholicism was dominant . This was the Rotary in Belgium's first time doing a trip to Spain so, we were the test group. I'm just going to come out and say it though . WE did wayyyy tooo much church related stuff. The schedule for the day sometimes ended up being : Church followed by Cathedral , basilica and several monasteries. I understand that Spain is right up there with Italy on beein' keen on jesus but there are plenty of other things to see . So much art , music, nature. Just giving us time to wander around cities and find things for ourselves. But it didn't work out that way.... the motto for the trip became : Churches by day , Clubbing by night. Although. the one house of worship I was completely and utterly amazed by was the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I've been in Europe for a while now so I've seen my fair share of Churches. But this. This is the most beautiful building I have ever seen . And it's not even half way finished. I will go back to Barcelona if/when they finish it .
Sagrada Familia
       On another note, this trip was also a chance for me to meet new exchangers. Most of the newies (kids from austrailia and new zealand that got here in jan) were on the trip and it was so cool to hang out with them .There were even kids that have been here all year that i had never met before and had an amazing time with . As expected most of the latino kids went to Italy but the ones that came to spain were all so nice and it was so great to talk to them. We taught them how to be "gringas" ( white girls) and we were taught how to be latinas .

Barcelona!

PHOTO TIME.
Malgrat Del Mar 

Salamanque


Avila (?)
Toledo
Segovie

 
                                                                           
It snowed. NOoooONE was prepared
El Escorial (where the whole spanish royal family crypt is )

Madrid
                                                                             


sidenote* the reason for the title -the weather kindaaaaaa sucked. Rain, cold , snow. ya know .







Monday, April 16, 2012

BACK FROM HIATUS

Hello world . I know you have all been wondering what to do with yourselves without my blog to read. BUT I'M BACK NOW . Dry thine eyes , I'm going to give a rundown of the last month :)

 First thing
 BRUXELLES : Bruxelles is pretty much like my second home. I've been there more times in 8 months than i think most of my classmates have in their whole lives ... don't wanna brag or anything. We visited the Musee Magritte ( famous realist painter) and the Musee de Bande Dessine ( Comic strips) . It was a great day , the best part was when i was leading all of the Belgians around Brussels though . Another way you know that you're in a small country is when you rent a two story charter bus to drive 45 minutes.......

  


NORMANDIE: Surprise trip ! That was ruined by my host dad the day before but it was great all the same. The funny thing about France is that its sooooo big that you can visit one Region and so SOOO much and yet it still won't even be half of whats there. We saw Rouen ( the captial of Normandy) Etretat ( the suppperr pretty cliffs) Honfleur( the quaint fishing village) The Benedictine Palace ( Palace made for booze ...and art... but mostly booze) and THE OCEAN. One of the weirdest parts of the trip was that we ended up staying the night and after searching allll over for a hotel we ended up staying at a bed and breakfast . This particular bed and breakfast was also a snail farm.... A SNAIL FARM. So i'm sitting there on the bed , dumbfounded and perhaps a little out of it asking my host mom WHY WE ARE SLEEPING AT A SNAIL FARM. It actually ended up being really nice though :).


SENSATION WHITE: This is a giannnt 12 hr dance rave thing that is all over europe , south america, and australia . The idea is to dress in all white for effect and you get to see some pretty awesome dj's live. The very very ironic part about the whole concert was that the majority of people that were there were .... AMERICANS . College kids on study abroad ... i met lax bros from near and far . Even a kid from the college i'm going to attend next year . GO GENESEO KIGHTS ;)

STANDARD LIEGE : The day after staying up 24+hrs i went to a Standard Liege match with my friend Tucker ! It was one of my goals to see a professional soccer match here and STANDARD was not a let down. They beat Leuven 4-0 :)

PARENTAL INVASION:   For the first time in Seven months i was reunited with my Family . It was so weird to take the train to Brussels and have people from this other world i left behind , there, to meet me . Luckily my parents and brother fell in LOVE with Belgium
heres what our schedule was like :
Wednesday: Bruxelles
Thursday : Bruges , Ostend(e?)
Friday : Binche, Mons , Tournai ,DOUR
Saturday: Bastogne , The Ardennes
Sunday: Antwerp
-3 am monday morning . GET ROBBED IN OUR HOTEL ROOM WHILE WE SLEEP. the window was open in our SECOND story room . Some scumbag saw that it was open , climbed up and took my dads wallet. After no help from the police and the hotel and little sleep we booked it out of Brussels and headed off to paris.
Monday- Paris
Tuesday- Versailles, Monmarte
Wednesday- Louvre, more Paris
Thursday- Leave.
     I didn't think i was going to be as emotional as i was to say goodbye to my family a second time, but i was. It was terrible. Having to say goodbye a second time . They were only here for about 10 days and at the beginning it was a little too weird to have them around for the first time in half a year and then by the time I was finally used to having them around , it was time for them to leave. I took the train back to Belgium thursday morning while my family flew back state side and i cried ALLLL the way back home. I kept my sunglasses on the whole time but my muffled sobs were obvious enough to scare the korean woman next to me . SCORE**
    The best part about the trip was that my American family got to meet my Belgian one . My host family did soooo much for my parents and brother , that they didn't have to . They drove us all over , had a huge dinner for us , and even had my family stay with them for a night. My parents tell me over and over that what they did for them really made the trip , and they're happy to see that i'm with a great family. Since their visit i think its safe to say that the american family and the belgian family are one in the same now :)

NEXT POST : rundown of my trip to catholicland- AKA spain

Monday, March 5, 2012

WHY YOU NEIGE?!

   So this update will be exponentially less exciting than the previous one , but what did you expect. It's not like Belgium is one big Carnaval or anything.
                        So it decided to finally start snowing here. Right after it decided to start warming up . Makes plenty of sense . I woke up this morning to a flurry of snow that just accumulated into wet slush , it only takes 4 cm to shut down the whole country , i sware.
   * Side note I changed back to my first host family on Saturday morning. With about five bags ..... My regular suitcase, carry on, two backpacks and a tote bag( with exclusively all my shoes) . I'm going to have to give away  some stuff . I'll go to Brussels and just give all my stuff to the homeless people. It won't buy them drugs and booze but it'll keep them warm .
       Saturday I went for a run in shorts and a t-shirt. It was 53 degrees I'd guess. Maybe I'm just a little too upstate New York to be running in shorts and a t-shirt then because EVERY person I passed was wearing a parka. Saturday night was a birthday party for my friend from school in the next town over , called the Archangel . ANNNND ever second Saturday of the month its a tranny bar...if that's what you're into.;) Anyway we got there and the  Miss and Mister. DOUR beauty pageant  was going on. Granted half the people in the compition were dour so i dont see how anybody could be merited a winner..*play on words , TEN POINTS FOR GRYFFINDOR . Eventually most of the wierdos cleared out and we finally got  to party. This was essentially the first time I was in a non-school environment with my classmates, and I had a really awesome time. Which in turned making me feel super regretful. Let mama tell ya why.In the beginning of my exchange , Sept-Nov I got out every chance I got. One weekend in Ghent one in Namur ect. I would go out because 1. I wanted to see Belgium and 2. I wasn't really getting anywhere with the kids at school ( i don't know if i wasn't trying engough ,probably, or it was the other way around) But NOW. I'm upset that i spent that time away , not speaking french , hanging out with exchangers every change i got . Don't get me wrong I still enjoyed it and I wouldn't have made such great friends within rotary , but I feel like my french could be better . My host mom has to correct me a lot but she does tell me my french is good. It's frustrating sometimes because I know that I'm not speaking correctly but I don't know how to correct myself so I just keep going. My host brother in Colombia speaks great Spanish now and even gives French lessons. It's really cool , but Spanish and French are closer than French and English . The only other romantic language that's closer to French than Spanish is Italian . Unfortunately I'm going from a Germanic language to a Romantic one. Sometimes i get so upset i just want to bang my head on a wall for a few minutes but I really do enjoy speaking french , and compared to some of the other exchange students i'm practically a savant. Actually now I'm realizing that I'd very much like to try and go to a Francophone college. Not here in Belgium but Quebec. Granted their french is going to sound really weird after spending a year here. The "Dialect" they speak here is called Borain , and theres also a bit of the dialect called Ch'tis .There a pretty famous french movie called Bienvenue Chez Les Ch'tis , about a man that lives in the South of France that is forced to move to the North for work . The accent , in my opinion sounds like more of a speech impediment . They add the Ch sound to everything. But while I was watching it I understood the collocations because ..we use them . I'm trying to watch a lot of french /french-belgian cinema just so i can really learn more of the language.
                   Anyway , My family will be here really soon and I'm bracing myself for the tedious task of playing translator. Last night I was on skype with them , and every few minutes i'd turn to my host mom and start speaking english and then look at my parents and start speaking french. WAY TO GO BRAIN * high five...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Carnaval

 So when people talk about Carnival or Carnaval (in french) you think instantly of Rio , Venice or New Orleans but another carnival that is of equal importance and just as popular is  the Carnaval de Binche. If you've read my other posts you know that I play in a wind ensemble in Binche so I've been told many times before about Carnaval. It was actually one of the first things my host family told me when we  met. This post is going to be kind of long because I'm going to do my best to explain the history and the tradition of Binche. 
         BACKGROUND:  Back in the 1500's Belgium belonged to Spain. Yes, I said Spain ... the emperor Charles Quint ruled over Spain's empire. His sister Marie of Hungary built a Chateau in Binche . The main figures of Carnaval emerged there ( Gilles de Binche) . There are a lot of theories about how the Gilles de Binche came about but the one with the most proof behind it is that of a legend written about the Incas of pre-colombia america and the way the indians were dressed were reciprocated in an show for Marie of Hungary . Although if you mention this to anyone from Binche they'll tell you its bull . 
                   The Carnival itself is three days long and based on the holy calender so the actual dates change every year. Other cities in Belgium do partake in their own version of Carnaval but Binche is the first and Original . The Gilles are in full costume only on Mardi Gras and there are rules to being a Gille that must be followed : 
 * Women are not allowed to be Gilles
 * a Gille must not misbehave ( drink , smoke ) while in costume in public
 * To be a Gille you must have been a resident of Binche for three years.
 * If you are a Gille and you have moved away from Binche you must go back for Carnaval
 * Gilles can only dance to the 27 sacred songs of the Carnaval 
 * If a Gille needs to leave the group during the Mardi Gras they must be accompanied by a drummer ( The Gilles are followed by the tambour ( drums ) and tradtional ensemble ( trumpet, baritone, tuba, clarinet) . 
 * A Gille can only wear the mask on the morning of Mardi Gras and the hat in the after noon of Mardi Gras.
the costumes :)
  there are actually a lot more that I can't think of at the moment but i'll mention them later if they come to mind

INTRO. My whole host family is involved with the Carnaval in some way or another so when I went I got the REAL experience not the tourist version. 
        SUNDAY: ( Dimanche Gras) or Shrove Sunday is when all the men in Binche who are Gilles dress up in costumes, not the traditional ones, usually something transgender or comical . There are different costumes for every society of Gilles . This year there were cave men, female flight attendants, smurfs , ostrich riders ect. They are always accompanied by a viola ( not the alto violin ) . A viola in this case is a very old instrument that plays melodies by turning a crank on the side. They dance all around the streets of Binche for the day and at night they are accompanied by the drums and brass. 
     One of the cool parts about Binche is that it's a walled city , and for part of the tradition we all went into the underground part of the walls and drank champagne . The cool part about the room is that its spherical and there is one part of the room where you can stand on one side of the room and talk to someone on the other side . 
       My friend Audrey was with us for Carnaval and we were walking around with my host mom when the mayor of Binche walked by and gave her the traditional flower of Binche. And then not two seconds after we accidentally ran into the Prime Minister of Belgium Elio De Rupo. NO BIG DEAL.
    The day was spent walking , dancing and following the Gilles until all hours of the morning.
   MONDAY: ( Lundi Gras) Shrove Monday . This day is more for the kids of binche, it has a Halloween feel to it . They all dress up and dance throughout the city with the viola also they have huge bags of confetti that they throw mercilessly  . There are usually themes to the costumes as well and this year it was Italian. My wind ensemble got together to play in the cafes and we all put on Italian themed stuff. I played my host mom's soprano sax and it was such an honor to be able to be an actual part of the Carnaval . ** FUN FACT : the Carnaval of Binche is officially recognized and protected by UNESCO** Also you play games in the street , I don't know the name of it but it works like this : You line up in the street , men on one side and women on the other and in the middle is the bass drum player and the man that runs the game and when the base drum player hits the drum the two sides switch . But if you get stuck on your side you go into the middle , inbetween the two groups and you have to do whatever the man running the game says. OF COURSE i got caught and in the middle of the confetti covered streets i was told to do push ups. I did rip my jeans in the process but they were the best push ups ever .  Towards the evening the little kids are still dancing in the cobblestoned streets but this time they're followed by the drummers and musicians ( i forgot to mention that my host dad is a baritone player for them ) but this time they start burning sulfur in the streets which actually glow red . I know this sounds a little weird but its just tradition. The groups of kids and musicians make their way towards the train station where there is a fireworks show and even while the fireworks are going on they still dance around the sulfur and the musicians still play . The cool part is when the shadows of the dancers are up on the walls of the city . Luckily my host parents know everyone in Binche and they have friends who live near the train station so we all got to go up to their balcony and watch the fireworks. Lundi Gras is the shortest night , IN THEORY. because the next day is the hardest. 
 MARDI GRAS : Shrove Tuesday , THE MOST IMPORTANT DAY. This is when the Gilles come out. The day starts at 2 am. We get up and drive to the house of some friends, because our friend Sylvan is a Gille de Binche. We show up and we get to watch him get into his costume and everything . The Gilles Dance ALLLL DAY on Mardi Gras Starting at 3 am and ending just before sunrise the following day . The whole aim of dancing is to welcome spring and chase away winter.

Costume

  • A mask.
  • A hat with ostrich feathers.
  • A belt with bells.
  • A bundle of willow twigs.( they use this to chase away winter and wake up spring)
  • A spherical costume.
  • Clogs.( the wooden clogs are worn and when they dance they are waking up the earth )
  • Basket of oranges, oranges or blood oranges.
 one can easily recognizes the costume: a linen suit with colorful lions and crowns, which is filled with straw, so the front and back creates a hump. They wear wooden shoes and a white collar.On their face they wear a mask (so everyone is anonymous), and a white hat on their head, then sometimes a big hat with ostrich plumes. Around their waists they wear the "apertintaille, a belt with six to nine bells.
 In the morning the Gilles are called together by a fife and drum ensemble. Fifes are kind of rare so if there isn't a fife a clarinet can be played as well. For Sylvan society Les Recalcitrants my host mom plays the clarinet to gather all the gilles. Before we all left to go everyone was piled in to Sylvans parents house with champagne ( that you don't drink out of champagne glasses , in binche you drink them out of glasses a little bit larger than shot glasses). There was even a news crew inside , and right before we left Sylvan's father played one song for him as a tradtition . For the next few hours we go from house to house waking the Gilles and bringing them together . Every house we go to we're welcomed inside and offered food and drinks. Every time another Gille is added to the group my host mom would play one of the twenty seven sacred songs
( SIDENOTE ABOUT THE SACRED SONGS) the 27 sacred songs of carnaval are the only songs allowed to be played in Binche 25 of them are for the musicians and then there is one that is the cadence for the drummers and one is the song played with the viola . 
     After all the Gilles were together we went to a cafe to eat oysters and smoked salmon, Not exactly something you'd eat at 5 am but what the hell it was good . There are dozens of other societies of gilles in binche but eventually after everyone is all brought together they make their way dancing to the train station . Where they are joined by the other costumed groups , ( Le Paysans and Le Pierreos which are usually kids , but little kids are allowed to be Gilles as well). Also during the parade the gilles will throw their bundle of sticks at people in the crowd and whoever catches it is allowed to  go into the group of gilles and dance . My host mom was very lucky and a friend of hers threw one to her , women aren't normally the ones that get to go in .  From the train station the Gilles make their way to the Grand Place of Binche. And half way there they put on their masks. The mask of the Gilles are sacred to Binche , there are no other Carnavals in Belgium that have the same ones . It is tradition for a woman to give the Gilles their masks a girlfriend , mother, sister ect. All the masks are the same to symbolize how a poor man and a rich man could both be Gilles and be equal. Once they arrive at the Grand Place of Binche they all hold hands and dance in a circle . I was lucky enough to be in the circle ! There are thousands of people there , news crews from all over i acually saw one from China . Meanwhile the musicians are playing for them, and after they finish dancing they get to take a break . After lunch they return to dancing but this time with the hats made of ostrich plumes. The hats aren't always manditory but the gilles in le Recalcitrants have to wear them . They make their way through the streets yet again and this time they have baskets full of oranges they throw to the crowd. The blood oranges are for good luck and are only lucky if they are given to you by a gille. YOU MUST NEVER THROW AN ORANGE BACK AT A GILLE IF HE GIVE YOU ONE , But now a days kids from university come and start little wars with them. The dancing goes on and on into the night where they start burning sulfur again and their are the shadows of the dancers , which is easily the most beautiful part. At the very end all the Gilles make their way back to the Grand Place for a huge Fireworks display !
       This was probably the most Belgian thing ever , and i loved every minute of it . My host dad explained to me that people in Binche are different than others, he always would tell me that there are no other cities in the world named Binche. Also everyone in binche knows eachother and somehow they all knew who i was, they'd come up to me and say OH you're the american who sang in the concert last week , I LOVED IT . It was amazing to meet these people who had nothing but good things to say about me even though i had no idea who they were. Actually last night i was still in Binche for a Dinner with the Gilles and i met a woman who asked me what i thought of carnival and i told her i loved it and It was my first one but DEFINITELY NOT my last one . She cried when i told her that.  But its true , I want to come back for Binche every year and hopefully play the 27 sacred songs with the people of Binche.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

So Hainaut

     This week has been pretty busy. I don't know if I mentioned it previously but I was going to sing in a concert with my host parents wind band ensemble in a concert. The past several days have been a push to the finish with rehearsal . Half my time has been spent in Binche *the town where we play * which isn't too bad because its a pretty cool town .
       Also I started my french courses finally , in Mons . I'm in the expert class , somehow , with another exchange student from conneticut ! We're the youngest in the class, the others are immigrants , ex pats ,ect. In some of the other classes there are americans and a few brits because theres a NATO base not far from Mons. The class covers exactly what I need ; the grammar , structure the base of the language that I don't really have the best understanding of from time to time.
                               Friday was the concert, and I was not nervous, even though it was the first time I ever sang by myself . EVER. The only thing that kept me from being nervous was the fact that less than 5% of the audience speaks English, and since i was singing in english I could of gone up there and sang the New York State penal code and they wouldn't have known the difference.
      Once again my host family surprised me , They sent out an email to my host club president and councilor asking them if they wanted to come to the concert as well as the other exchangers in my club. So im walking around in the lobby during the intermission and I start seeing exchange student faces that i recognize ......and then my president and councilor come up and tell me about the whole thing! I am very much on the good side with the rotarians now ;) . Also there was another surprise i was in on for the concert. The concert was to commemorate my host dads 15 years working as the cheif of the ensemble and right before i went on stage to  sing they pulled up a video of my host brother Pierre , who's in colombia right now for his exchange and he said a few words about his father and introduced his little sister ;).
                     After a late night of reveling in the success of the concert Saturday was spent getting ready for my host brother Clement's surprise 18th birthday party . My host dad got to use a really nice room at the military base in Mons . It was an Ireland themed party so there was Guinness , naturally. I also got to see friends that I haven't seen in a while because I don't live with Clement at the moment . At 8 clement showed up at the party blindfolded and dressed up as a leprechaun . Everyone was dead quiet and when they took off the blind fold , Patrick a friend of my host parents came out in full dress playing the bagpipes. It was awesome! Since my French is so much better ( not perfect) it was so easy to move from group to group and be able to talk and make jokes. Finally at midnight my host parents and their friends from the ensemble in Binche came out and played all the songs that are for Carnvial . COMMENCE AWKWARD CIRCLE DANCING AND WAVING NAPKINS AROUND EVERYWHERE. Still very awesome either way. Plus I learned how to work a tap. Belgification complete.

Next week will be the start of Carnival in Binche which is one of the best places in the world to go for carnival , its up there with Rio, Venice, New Orleans ect. Theres wayy tooo much to explain for this post so I'll leave it for later !

* reason for title , Hainaut is the name of the Province  i live in and i'm currently trying to learn all the provinces and their captials
i'll give it a go
 Namur- Namur
 Liege-  Liege
 Antwerp-Antwerp
 Hanaiut - Mons
 Limburg- Hasselt
 Luxembourg- ( not the duchy) Arlon
 Brabant Walloon- Warve
 Brabant Flamand- Leuven
 Flanders Occidental- Brugge
 Flanders Oriental-Ghent

Someday i'll make an effort and explain the clusterfuck that is belgium but i want to give a quick example of what we're dealing with here.
   the captial of Wallonia - Namur
   the captial of Flanders - Brussels
       The majority of the people in Brussels speak French. CLEAR AS MUD, NO?!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

BienviNewies

          So finally the new crop of exchange students arrived for lil ol district 1620. Numbers wise I think we're the smallest district. About thirty of us all together , which sounds like a lot for such a small country but seriously all together theres about 200 of us rotary misfits.
                        It's been cold in Belgium... but the sun has been out which is better than being warm and raining i guess...? Saturday started off , cold like any other day, but with FRESHLY FALLEN SNOW. Which actually means it was warming up . ( Upstate new york logic) . I took the train to Brussels with my friend and fellow exchange student Tucker from California. Tucker lives about 10 minutes away from me and yet the last time i saw him was... October, because his other host family was very stringent with rotary rules. a bitttt too extreme if you ask me , but in his exile he has managed to speak excellent french! better than me . which doesn't count for much anyway. but still.
          We trucked it across brussels in the cold with no immediate aim until about noon or so when we took the train to the PRETTIEST CITY IN THE WORLD. Charleroi. look it up if you don't know what i'm talking about. Upon arrival we met up with about 10 other exchange students who were all en route for the welcome meeting for the new students. After getting off at the wrong bus stop and mom walking through the cold we got to the school. fashionably late. There were about 8 or so newies , from Argentina, Australia and Colombia. Ironically enough the new exchange student from Colombia is from Tunja , the city my host brother Pierre is in right now . SO of course they know each other ! His name is Jose and he live in Mons which is close to where I live and he's also a musician so my host family was really excited to hear that there was a friend of pierre's near by ! Most of the others either live in Tournai or Charleroi(they'll be dead within the month).
              School has been good, I'm being super social FINALLY, but it's also because I'm so comfortable with my french that i can finally make jokes and whatnot. Theres a couple of people ....dare i say it ....."FRIENDS?!?" that want to learn english so i kind of give them lessons during lunch and they help me out with my French. I'm actually supposed to be starting a french course in Mons soon but its just not super easy to get there with public transport but it should be a bit easier when the weather doesn't suck so much . Plus i really need to work on my tenses . If you asked me to translate something with " shouldn't" or " wouldn't" i really can't do it.........
                I've been pretty busy lately nonetheless. I'm singing in a concert with my host parents so I'm at rehersals a couple times a week and we don't get home till 12-1 am . I'm pretty excited for it though !



Sunday, January 29, 2012

I get around......

                Rotary has a way of connecting people, which makes living abroad so much easier. When we had exchange students in my school I'd make friends with them right away . Not just because it gave me a place to stay if i was visiting their country but also because it was amazing to meet people that come from a different background and culture. This week I made three crazy rotary connections .

1.         This past spring my home district had a weekend camping orientation for all the rotary kids , inbounds and outbounds. My rotary councilor took me and the two exchange students from my school where we met up with all the others. A midst the twenty some odd exchange students there , was a girl from Belgium! Elise , lives in Brussels and she was really awesome and easy going . Willing to help me out with anything , and when I arrived in belgium i got in contact with her. Finally yesterday we met up . I took the train into Brussels to see her because she has this week off from law school . She was so open and excited to show me the parts of Brussels that aren't so touristy.  I stayed the night with her family who were the most welcoming and gracious people ever. They were genuinely interested in me and impressed by my french. Which was awesome , i felt very relaxed around all of them so my french was even better. I went out that night and met Elise's  friends . all of them were really cool and even though she warned me they might talk fast i understood everything. All of them told me to come and stay with them whenever i wanted. and I AM DEFINITELY going to take them up on that because one of the hardest things i've had to deal with here is making belgian friends. They all understood that things are a bit different in my part of belgium so i was glad they were really cool with me :). Today Elise's parents had a huge brunch with dozens of family friends over and it was such a great time, they all were interested in meeting me and talking about how i felt about belgium and the united states( rotary says i'm not here to impose politics and everything but i ask about belgium and i like it when people ask me things about the united states) . When it was time to go i didn't really want to but her parents told me to come WHENEVER i wanted. Just if i want to get away for a little while or longer. I am so greatful for meeting them and I plan on spending more time with elise for the rest of my exchange anyway.

2.  since there are 200+ exchange students in belgium the rebounds are bound to meet the inbounds(lots of bounds there ) yesterday elise told me , Oh i met a girl from dinant thats here with rotary and she knows you . Turns out to be my friend kenzie from wyoming !

3.   On my way to the train station in brussels i ran into my friend alex from canada who lives in namur , he was showing around his friend morgan who's doing her exchange in switzerland. Shes here for the week visiting and so i walked around a bit with them . She tells me shes in the german speaking part.... I HAVE A FRIEND FROM MY DISTRICT BACK HOME THAT IS THERE. I go out on a limb " do you know mark?" SHE SURE DOES.


Right before i met up with alex i was walking . alone .in brussels. and i have to say it was one of the most satisfying things ever. just being alone no one really knowing who you are. Plus it was a sunday so there aren't crowds .

Monday and Tuesday i was in Antwerp.
                 FOR THE BLACK KEYS.


    My friend audrey and i decided we'd go and see them and the tickets weren't that expensive. I splurged a little and got a hotel room for the night and everything. Antwerp is a great city , clean , safe , people speak english.... On our tickets was a little yellow stamp that let us use all the public transport for free to and from the concert! There was an opening band Portual.The Man, they we're pretty good , they covered the beatles which isn't always doable, but they were nothing compared to the black keys . They have this sound thats so raw and soulful and goddamnit ZEXY. It was an excellent concert , one of the best groups to see live by far. Plus this was their first show of their european tour and they played some stuff live that they've never played before.
   The next day we wandered around Antwerp. Its a rich city , thats a given. but theres also this laid back artsy feel to it that makes you just want to take any ol street. Theres such cool architecture and street art the mix of traditional and new . Just a great city overall.



So my parents and my brother are coming to visit soon . Former exchange students have expressed their troubles from when their family came to visit them . " i would get so confused with the two languages" , " i didn't want them to come " " this is my year " "my world here and my world back home shouldnt mix" and i understand all of that. But . I really can't wait to show my family around. My Parents have always wanted to come to europe and now i finally have a chance to share this with them . Whenever i was traveling i would stop and think for a moment " wow my dad would really like this" and i'd feel bad. so i cant wait !

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Five MONTHS ALREADY?!

view from my bedroom
On friday january 13th I had my 5 month anniversairy of being in belgium ( super lucky) .
  It doesn't feel like it's been 5 months , honestly . Being half way through doesn't seem real, I don't even want to think about the day when i have to pack up my things and say goodbye. I didn't really even get to be comfortable and used to everything till about october/november, so i don't really understand how anyone could to a 3-5 month exchange. You'd still feel like a tourist after everything in my opinion. Everything would still be new and confusing . Plus you probably wouldn't learn much French.
           My french , is okay.I get complimented on it a lot but I feel like I'm not that good. I can speak well when i know exactly what I want to say. Now i'm having trouble with past tenses , ironically enough the section my English class is working on is EXACTLY what I need to learn in French. Ex: " I wouldn't have come if i couldn't get a ride." stuff like that . Hopefully when I start my French class next month they'll cover that.
        I know I've probably covered this before in earlier posts but its bothering me more and more . It being the random English that is on everyone's sweatshirts here. Things like America College #1 Team 1945 or Atlanta Football Club . I'm just like YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHAT ANY OF THOSE THINGS ARE!!!!!!!!!! And yes i know there are plenty of shirts buried somewhere in a forever 21 stateside with random french scrawled on it , BUT my point is ,that Europeans are notorious for loathing Americans or at least  our way of life. Yet... you listen to our music, wear Converse and Nike, drink coke like water, and all have dreams of going to New York or Los Angeles . It also seems a little hard to find good music here, there are several belgian groups that i've heard and liked but the radio is domniated by weird club music with dubious lyrics . All sounding eerily similiar * BOOM BOOM BOOM THE SOUND OF YOU LOVE MAKES ME HIIIIGGHHHHHH*
    The official name of where i live here , the region , is called Le Borinage. and it's known for the now not so functioning coal mining industry . My host sister and I were talking about it yesterday and its .... not very prosperous. I'm actually in the poorest Provence in Belgium. It wasn't always this way , we were on top of things during the Industrial Revolution. You can tell this area used to have money because there are plenty of really nice houses left over. Now its ...yeah... there's an incredibly high amount of unemployment and apparently there's a mafia type family in the next town over.  Sometimes i think the main attraction of this area is that you aren't far from a train station to take you somewhere else. It's a good thing everyone i've met here has been incredibly welcoming and nice to make up for it :)
        Speaking of somewhere else I went to Lille yesterday! My host sister , Elena, her friend from school and I all took the train for the SOLDES ( sales) . The trip wasn't even that long , 45 minutes i think. I went out with the intention of buying a new purse and pea coat, I got half of my objective accomplished. Unfortunately my debit card was empty and i got to have that nice awkward moment at the cash register when you're card gets denied. It was still really cool , the city is beautiful and i was going to take photos but we were on a mission of consumerism NO TIME. La prochaine fois
    After shopping we went on a night walk with my host brother and sisters youth group. It's kind of like the Scouts you find all over belgium but a bit different. I don't know the differences really i just know that they don't want you to call them scouts. we walked 12 km and it was much needed . WHAT IS THIS CALLED AGAIN , Exercise?! After the walk my knee locked up quicker than all the stores here at 5 pm. ( old soccer injury from my glory days *sniff) I'm actually going to try and join the indoor soccer club in my town and wednesdays i'm going to go running with my host sister and host mom in their jogging club. I'm going to get fit if it kills me ...which it probably will.
   I'm pretty lucky , my host siblings are great they always ask me if i want to go out and do things with them , more time to work on my french and be SOCIAL.
Bedroom

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Le Foot , Tu Me Manques!

         First week of school , after a month off. OOOH LA , not easy. Well in terms of doing stuff like homework, yes ,but in terms of getting up before ten . NO . its a good thing good ol coffee is there to make me face the day unwillingly.
    So I've started to speak with the slang/dialect from around here and I don't even mean to . I was talking to a classmate at school and I replied with some slang and he applauded me . All in all it is cool to speak like the locals and what not but , you know who won't understand it. THE REST OF THE FRENCH SPEAKING WORLD. It's insane really , there is slang and dialects for every city and town around here. I need to work on my proper French. After many emails and pleadings with my rotary councilor , he sent me information about a French course for non-Francophones in Mons ( the city near me ) . The sign up for the course was on Friday and I had to take the bus to get there. I normally DON'T EVER take the bus . If I do , it's because I'm with a friend that has to . My host family normally drove me everywhere **SPOILED**. The bus route went by my school so I got on after classes on Friday . Even though Mons isn't far away it still took about 56 hours to get there because of all the students who take the bus too. It took way too long and I was running late . PLUS I missed my stop and didn't realize it . The bus is at the train station in Mons and I go up to the driver and ask if my stop is close. He says that he's already passed it * WELL DONE SARAH *. This whole time I'm contemplating just getting off , scraping  the whole thing and taking the train home in defeat. BUT I DIDN'T I found the city bus that runs for free and found my stop. I was really late...but I got there. I find the room for the signup and its full of people from all over the world. Belarus, Uzbekistan , The UK ect.. and they aren't kids. All immigrants , or people sent to work here because of the NATO military base nearby. I sat down and it took forever to finally talk to the woman . The first thing she asked me was if i was an exchange student , is it that obvious? . The whole time I'm thinking I'm going to be put in the beginner class and the woman is like you'll be in the advanced class. FOR ONCE , I felt smart. Luckily there is also another exchange student who goes to the class that i know. Because in Belgium all the exchange students know each other. I'm excited to start and glad to know that I'll be with another exchanger because some of the people in the class seem PRETTY SHADY.
            It's weird here, the weather. It's not cold at all really, it feels like March/April and its January. No snow , temperatures in the 40's, SUNNNNY( an unknown heat giving orb not known to this region). I kind of like it . It makes me want to go outside and do something. UNFORTUNATELY I can't. Well.. not completely true. I have a lawn now ! (thankgod) so I might go outside and kick the ball around. But there isn't a place to run , I don't know the neighborhood well and it doesn't seem very accommodating to runners anyway. There's a gym in the next town over but i can't get there by walking. This all amount to the fact that i miss being active. I miss riding my bike , i miss running , i miss soccer OH MY GOD HOW I MISS SOCCER. I wasn't sure how much Belgium had for women's soccer but just in case i packed my cleats, and forgot my high heels. turns out i needed the latter more than the former. There are clubs in every town around here and i pass dozens of pitches when i take the train anywhere. I see them and i press my face up against the train window ,so desperate to get out there and play . I want to play in college and the fact that i haven't played in months is not good at all. There are rumors about women's teams, but you have to really ask around for information, I've sent emails out to coaches and sports clubs and they're like oh we stopped the women's club a while ago. It's sad really , the emphasis on sports for girls  here is practically non existent when you compare it to the united states. Gym in school doesn't do much either, i mean now we're swimming so that will be a good workout but when there's 35 girls playing a modified version of baseball which includes a foam bat and ball , holding hands to run the bases, and throwing things into cones. IT DOESN'T INSPIRE MUCH CONFIDENCE. Then you have to factor in that its the 24/7 bread diet , and then you go shopping and the sizes are so so tiny its crazy. These people are genetically engineered to eat bread all the time and not be overweight. Americans don't work like that.
   Anyway I haven't been up to that much , I went to Namur yesterday with my friend Chelsea from Liege. It's a cool city , historic without all the industrialism . I didn't take any pictures though , even though the last time i was there i took hundreds , but those never saw the light of day because my camera got stolen :D YAY! The shopping district was packed because in Europe for some reason the Crazy sales start after Christmas. I had to restrain myself from buying anything . hardest thing ever.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Skiing with Pat and other stories

So I've been bad about blogging since the last time I posted , but the holidays happened.
      Christmas: Went to host grandparents house just over yonder in France , where we started eating at 9 pm and didn't stop roughly until 2 am. We all dressed up , which is kind of a doubled edged sword because by the time you're done eating you're practically bursting out of your nicest garments. Circus' are apparently pretty popular here so they televise a lot for the eve , so we ate and watched the Circus festival from Monaco . At midnight we exchanged presents. My host parents got me a really nice pair of earrings , that I saw them buy but that's so they knew what i would like :D. Christmas morning , still stuffed and dazed from all the food , we went home and I gave my host family my presents . I made them cry , i consider that a perfect ten on the scale of gift giving . Especially because one of the gifts was a frame with a few photos of all of us together . Then my host grandparents came to our house and we continued again with the feasting. Plus skyping with family . It wasn't as commercial and blown up as it is in America which is fine but definitively not something i was used to . Nevertheless i was still completely satisfied that i got to spend it with great people.
      New Years: The day before New Year's Eve I changed families. To be honest I really wasn't looking forward to it. A few day's before the switch I was talking with my dad on Skype and he said " I don't know how you can go through all that emotional stress, you finally get settled with a family and you have to leave again." and he was right it is weird. Especially because I have such a strong connection with my first host family. ANYWAY ...New Years , was spent in Brussels with about fifty other exchange students. It was amazing we went clubbing and danced all night. One of my friends who lives right in Brussels had a friend on an exchange in France with her visiting and shes like " We never do this in France, its too strict" and then i gave myself another pat on the back for choosing Belgium. Everyone stayed up all night , the club we went to had a good dj and some live singers and an awesome saxophonist . New Years day I went back to my first host families house just to say hello and spend some time with them .  I do miss them but I'm lucky because I'll be going back to them for my third family !

  SKIING: January 2nd , 4 am ..... 4 AMMM up and attem to go skiing in the alps with my 2nd host family . It was me my host mom , my host brother and his girlfriend. My host sister couldn't come because shes in Uni and her tests start soon. We spent this week Skiing in the French Provence of Haute Savoie , its about 8 hours away and very very very close to Switzerland. The station we skied at was called Praz-de-lys and was 2000m or about a mile and a quarter above sea level... kinda big . I mean they are the Alps , actually the tallest mountain in Europe , Mont Blanc was right next to where we were .Driving up the mountain to get there  it was raining and then the higher you went it turned into snow , SNOWWWWWWW something unfamiliar to belgium . There had to be about 4 feet ! It was amazing , the views of the mountains just outside our apartment window, but the views from the top of the slopes were even better. Now i'm no expert skiier , actually i just started last year... which is kind of ironic because i come from a region of new york with plenty of skiing. But i did pretty well,  i could handle the blue and red slopes . AIN'T NO WAY I WAS TAKING THE EXPERT SLOPES. I know its not "cool" to wear a helmet , but i think its "cool" to have a functioning brain so i wore one. Especially because i'm a little over-confident when i ski. . One slope went from the very summit all the way down, and was considered a blue (intermediate) slope . We took it and it was gorgeous the views were amazing ...but then it got steep and i tried to be careful but then i found a patch of ice and i pulled a yardsale. A Yardsale is ski lingo for when you fall and LOSE EVERYTHING; poles, skis, skis hat, goggles. I wipe out hardcore and its a damn good thing my helmet didn't fall off until i stopped rolling down the slope or else i'm sure i'd be in a hospital eating my meals through a tube. Other than that i didn't take any super big falls, but i have a nack for falling on the easy slope for stupid reasons, or the TELESKI... my sworn enemy . I'm sure they exist in the united states but all the places i've been skiing back home never had them. You put this metal pole with a disk on the end between your legs and it pulls you up the slope, romantic i know. problem is that if you're not paying attention you will fall. a lot . as i did. Your skis can cross or you can hit a gash in the slope where someone fell before you and off you go hobbling down the slope back to the lift like a loser. I fell in the middle of the lift and had to wait for my host brother to come back down to help , and it wasn't easy to wrangle the lift from half way up the slope! One time I fell and it was too steep for me to ski down so I had to walk down carrying my skis and i passed the people going up and they we're all giving me these looks and asking me if i was alright .. Did i mention i looked like a pat. I had to borrow some of my other host families ski stuff because i really wasn't interested in buying a bunch of new ski things for a week. SO in my opinion i looked like a pat. or someone with and indistinguishable gender....no cute snow bunny here. just PAT. but all in all it was an amazing week , I mean i got to ski in the alps , who knows if i'll ever be able to to do that again. 

  UNRELATED CONTENT: So in these past few days I think I've realized i'm not European enough for Europe. Before I left I thought oh I'm going to fit right in , and that never really seemed to pan out. For example: The school system bothers me way too much, you don't get to pick your classes , no extracurriculars, no enrichment . Just school . They don't even have as much homework as Americans do and yet they spend their time after school studying. Sports: There are no sports for girls. we not none but very few. Especially soccer, which is king here . BUT APPARENTLY ITS TABOO FOR THE QUEEN TO PLAY. I miss soccer so so so so much , and I really can't join the boys club. I miss the competitiveness and skill of soccer. I know i'm not here to play but ...MEH , I miss it . Dressing up: everyone here takes pride in their appearance and i like that but sometimes i'm like just SCREW IT wearing jeans and a hoodie.
Although , my host brother and i have been talking a lot about stereotypes , government and politics , and its really interesting to see the differences in opinion . With the stereotypes as well , there is always a little bit of truth behind all of them. Don't get me wrong I love it here but there are some things that I don't think I'll ever come around to liking or understanding. Same with some things in the United States! It's all relative.